Category Archives: Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings

Liberty Call

Well, i wasn’t expecting liberty to come upon me this fast.

Saturday, i will be leaving for 13 days of liberty in Scotland. There are six of us going to Edinburgh, Pitchlory, Isle of Skye, and Inverness. Sounds nice. i’m sure i will enjoy it.

i especially am looking forward to visiting the University of Edinburgh. The professor who influenced me most through my five-plus years at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee was Dr. Bill Holland. When i came to my senses and changed my major from civil engineering at Vanderbilt to Literature at Middle Tennessee, Bill Holland not only blew me away with the Romantics, he became a close friend. Bill’s dissertation traced the themes of Chaucer through the British greats such as Shakespeare and Spenser to the Romantics. i was told (although i have been unable to verify it) he received a “first class” doctorate, one of ten recipients of such an honor, especially since the university was founded in 1582.

Regardless, Bill Holland was an impressive professor, and my respect for him as a professor and a friend makes a visit to the Scottish university a joy anticipated for me.

The locales planned for out visit are interesting. i know i will find them wonderful. But for me, having two weeks with my brother, sister, their spouses, and Maureen is the best part. It will be the first time and likely the only time just the six of us will be together without other family. This is special for me.

Initially, i was planning to take notes, some source material, etc. and continuing to post installments of Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings.

But i am old and don’t multi-task as well as i used to do. Come to think of it, when i went on liberty while deployed, i never, ever took any work with me. So there will be no installments of the book while i am on liberty. Nor is it likely i will post much of anything, except some thoughts about the trip until i return in mid-June.

i just wanted you to know.

Apologia

i was shooting to get the next installment out this past Sunday.

Nope.

i continued to miss Monday, Tuesday, and today, even with my golf being cancelled because of rain.

RAIN. Come on, i’m not complaining considering what’s happening to the rest of the country, but this is the most unusual San Diego May i’ve ever experienced. And it ain’t over. That could lower my productivity i think.

Regardless, i apologize. i’ve been working on this installment for four days of at least eight hours each day. Hmm, sounds like work. That’s okay. And i should point out all of those eight hours weren’t just working on the book.

But i’m disappointed i’m not getting this out as planned. i apologize to all.

Chapter 9: Settling into Masirah Anchorage

Chapter 9: Settling into Masirah Anchorage

The night before the ship anchored off Masirah, the XO made a challenge that worried him for two months. Each autumn, Navy commands conducted the “Combined Federal Campaign” fund drive. The Yosemite’s had been running for about a month.

The ship’s goal was to get 100 percent participation in giving to the fund and to give more than other commands. The XO thought he might influence both goals being met. So at Eight O’Clock Reports on the evening of Thursday, October 28, I put my foot in my mouth. I mildly chewed out the department heads, command master chief, etc. for not getting more crew members to donate. Then, I announced the executive officer would take the person who in ship’s company donated the most to the campaign out to dinner at our first liberty port. I followed that up by posting it as a note in the POD the morning before we reached our anchorage.

Almost immediately, I began to have doubts. I wondered what I would do if the crew member gave the most so he or she could bend my ear about how bad I or another officer was treating them. I was concerned a malcontent might do the same just to make one liberty night miserable for me. And I wasn’t looking forward to spending one of the few evenings I would have to relax ashore spent with a crew member I might not enjoy. But most of all, I worried I might have encouraged a

The night before the ship anchored off Masirah, the XO made a challenge that worried him for two months. Each autumn, Navy commands conducted the “Combined Federal Campaign” fund drive. The Yosemite’s had been running for about a month.

The ship’s goal was to get 100 percent participation in giving to the fund and to give more than other commands. The XO thought he might influence both goals being met. So at Eight O’Clock Reports on the evening of Thursday, October 28, I put my foot in my mouth. I mildly chewed out the department heads, command master chief, etc. for not getting more crew members to donate. Then, I announced the executive officer would take the person who in ship’s company donated the most to the campaign out to dinner at our first liberty port. I followed that up by posting it as a note in the POD the morning before we reached our anchorage.

Almost immediately, I began to have doubts. i wondered what I would do if the crew member gave the most so he or she could bend my ear about how bad I or another officer was treating them. I was concerned a malcontent might do the same just to make one liberty night miserable for me. And I wasn’t looking forward to spending one of the few evenings I would have to relax ashore spent with a crew member I might not enjoy. But most of all, I worried I might have encouraged a sailor to spend a lot more than they could afford just to have dinner with me.

The possibilities continued to bother me until the winner was announced at the conclusion of the CFC drive.

*    *     *

But as we went to anchorage, this executive officer had the problem overtaken by becoming busier than expected.

Once anchored, the world of Yosemite changed quickly. We were now at a place where we would remain for an undetermined amount of time. The operation of the air base  primarily was accomplished by British Royal Air Force personnel who were based there.We had received guidelines on what was expected of the ship by the Omani Air Force base on the island through government channels. Our Supply Officer, Commander Tim Allega had worked on the coordination for us. Most of the coordination on the Omani side was done by the British.

We were just off the coast of what was for all of us a strange land. We would find out more as crew members went ashore, but we tried to give the crew some ideas of what this strange land was like.

What we could and couldn’t do was pretty straightforward except for one item: trash. The word we received from shore was emphatic: there could be no trash floating up on the shore of Masirah. In  case you haven’t been on a ship, they do not get regular service from garbage and recycle trucks. Ships have to deal with it. For my entire time at sea, the way we dealt with it would give today’s environmentalists a heart attack. We dumped our trash over the fantail and watched it float away on our wake or sink. But Yosemite was not underway. We had a problem. The captain, department heads, and I put our heads together and came up with a plan. It was explained in the 01 November POD:

9. Trash/Garbage Procedures for Masirah Anchorage: While at the Masirah Anchorage, it is imperative that we take necessary steps to ensure all trash is bagged, sinkable, and dumped at optimum tide conditions. Accordingly, the following procedures will be applied.

The fantail is the only authorized trash dumping station. No coke cans or other items of trash are to be discarded over the side except as specified below.

All trash and garbage will be held on station until the authorized disposal time.

All trash will be compacted to the maximum extent possible and bagged in such a fashion as to prevent the load from coming apart before it sinks. (e.g.  coke cans or aerosol cans floating loose).

Take extraordinary steps to ensure no radio copy (classified or unclassified) or any classified material is mixed in with the trash.

Times for dumping trash will be published in the Plan of the Day. During the trash dumping period an EDF [Enlisted Dining Facility, i.e. the mess decks] will supervise at the fantail dumping station. He will make the determination as to whether or not a package is in compliance with the above procedures. In making this determination he is exercising a watch responsibility and will not be over ruled by a more senior petty officer. Any dispute over what is approved for dumping and what is not will be resolved by the quarterdeck OOD.

If it becomes necessary to send a boat to retrieve a package which did not sink, the offending division will provide the personnel to to ride the boat and fish out the mess.

Trash Dumping Hours for Today are:
0600-0700
1830-1930

We announced daily the times for dumping trash coinciding with the outgoing tides. We thought we had solved the problem.

This was just the beginning of the extra work we had due to our unique situation.

*     *     *

It was time for this executive officer to remember the admonishment Captain Roger Newman had given him when I departed the Okinawa for my change of duty to the Yosemite.

In my time at sea, one of the signs of a good ship handler was bringing his ship alongside a pier with no tugboats assisting. In today’s Navy, the increased size of the ships and the cost of repairing any damage if there was contact between the ship and pier has pretty much eliminated this maneuver without tugboats. In the case of tenders, their size and lack of maneuverability compared to destroyers and many amphibious ships in the early 1980’s, they nearly always used tugboats.

But we were in Masirah, at anchorage, not alongside a pier. There were no tugboats. For ships to come alongside and tie up for their maintenance periods the conning officers of the approaching ship had to demonstrate exceptional shiphandling capability.

The next day, the USS Fletcher (DD 992) was approaching our port side at 0900 and would not only test the seamanship of her conning officer but would also put me through one of the worst experiences of my tour.

As Fletcher made her approach,  our linehandlers were responsible for passing the  “messenger” lines (“ropes” to landlubbers) to the Fletcher linehandlers on their forecastle, amidships and on the stern. The Fletcher linehandlers would then tie the messengers to their mooring lines and our linehandlers would  pull the mooring lines back to Yosemite.  When the Fletcher moved into her mooring position (our rubber fenders were out over the side to buffer the ships from actual contact), the mooring lines would be secure.

Passing the messenger normally was done by two methods. One was heaving the lines by hand to the other ship. The other was using a shot line. A shot line was the messenger tied to a small

This was in an open sea  and bringing a ship alongside a ship at anchor required lines being passed as quickly as possible. The mooring lines were passed quickly on the forecastle, but the seas had separated the two sterns out from each other and the fantail linehandlers had not been  able to get their lines across. The captain began to become more forceful in his orders through his sound-powered phone talker to the fantail. George Sitton, the first lieutenant, spoke to me with some urgency. He essentially said the linehandlers aft couldn’t get the lines across and we should use the crane to pass the lines. i agreed. We suggested this to the captain. He did not agree and became more forceful in his commands to pass the lines aft.  As Georg and I became more belligerent in our recommendation, the lines were passed without the crane as the captain had ordered.

The lines were tightened and Fletcher was secured alongside. We secured from sea detail but before going below, the captain asked me to come to his cabin. i followed him and sat in the chair in front of his desk.

“XO,” he began, “Don’t you ever question my orders again in front of our crew or officers again! I cannot tolerate that kind of show of disrespect. If you disagree with a decision or order of mine, we can discuss in private, but never do that again.”

I not only knew he was correct in admonishing me, I was embarrassed I had forgotten that parting advice from Captain Newman: “You know when you become executive officer, your most important job is to support the captain,” he explained, “It doesn’t matter what you think about his decisions, if you don’t like his actions, or even if you don’t like him. Your job is to support him, to do anything to make him successful, to be his voice, his mirror reflection. That is your primary job.”

And I had forgotten. In my mind, I had committed a major blunder. It may have been done with good intention, but it was something an executive officer should never do.

I immediately responded to the captain, “Aye, aye, sir. i understand and apologize.” As I was leaving his cabin, I vowed I would never disagree with him in public again.

to spend a lot more than they could afford just to have dinner with me.

The possibilities continued to bother me until the winner was announced at the conclusion of the CFC drive.

*    *     *

But as we went to anchorage, this executive officer had the problem overtaken by becoming busier than expected.

Once anchored, the world of Yosemite changed quickly. We were now at a place where we would remain for an undetermined amount of time. The operation of the air base  primarily was accomplished by British Royal Air Force personnel who were based there.We had received guidelines on what was expected of the ship by the Omani Air Force base on the island through government channels. Our Supply Officer, Commander Tim Allega had worked on the coordination for us. Most of the coordination on the Omani side was done by the British.

We were just off the coast of what was for all of us a strange land. We would find out more as crew members went ashore, but we tried to give the crew some ideas of what this strange land was like.

What we could and couldn’t do was pretty straightforward except for one item: trash. The word we received from shore was emphatic: there could be no trash floating up on the shore of Masirah. In  case you haven’t been on a ship, they do not get regular service from garbage and recycle trucks. Ships have to deal with it. For my entire time at sea, the way we dealt with it would give today’s environmentalists a heart attack. We dumped our trash over the fantail and watched it float away on our wake or sink. But Yosemite was not underway. We had a problem. The captain, department heads, and I put our heads together and came up with a plan. It was explained in the 01 November POD:

9. Trash/Garbage Procedures for Masirah Anchorage: While at the Masirah Anchorage, it is imperative that we take necessary steps to ensure all trash is bagged, sinkable, and dumped at optimum tide conditions. Accordingly, the following procedures will be applied.

The fantail is the only authorized trash dumping station. No coke cans or other items of trash are to be discarded over the side except as specified below.

All trash and garbage will be held on station until the authorized disposal time.

All trash will be compacted to the maximum extent possible and bagged in such a fashion as to prevent the load from coming apart before it sinks. (e.g.  coke cans or aerosol cans floating loose).

Take extraordinary steps to ensure no radio copy (classified or unclassified) or any classified material is mixed in with the trash.

Times for dumping trash will be published in the Plan of the Day. During the trash dumping period an EDF [Enlisted Dining Facility, i.e. the mess decks] will supervise at the fantail dumping station. He will make the determination as to whether or not a package is in compliance with the above procedures. In making this determination he is exercising a watch responsibility and will not be over ruled by a more senior petty officer. Any dispute over what is approved for dumping and what is not will be resolved by the quarterdeck OOD.

If it becomes necessary to send a boat to retrieve a package which did not sink, the offending division will provide the personnel to to ride the boat and fish out the mess.

Trash Dumping Hours for Today are:
0600-0700
1830-1930

We announced daily the times for dumping trash coinciding with the outgoing tides. We thought we had solved the problem.

This was just the beginning of the extra work we had due to our unique situation.

*****

It was time for this executive officer to remember the admonishment Captain Roger Newman had given him when I departed the Okinawa for my change of duty to the Yosemite.

In my time at sea, one of the signs of a good ship handler was bringing his ship alongside a pier with no tugboats assisting. In today’s Navy, the increased size of the ships and the cost of repairing any damage if there was contact between the ship and pier has pretty much eliminated this maneuver without tugboats. In the case of tenders, their size and lack of maneuverability compared to destroyers and many amphibious ships in the early 1980’s, they nearly always used tugboats.

But we were in Masirah, at anchorage, not alongside a pier. There were no tugboats. For ships to come alongside and tie up for their maintenance periods the conning officers of the approaching ship had to demonstrate exceptional shiphandling capability.

The next day, the USS Fletcher (DD 992) was approaching our port side at 0900 and would not only test the seamanship of her conning officer but would also put me through one of the worst experiences of my tour.

As Fletcher made her approach,  our linehandlers were responsible for passing the  “messenger” lines (“ropes” to landlubbers) to the Fletcher linehandlers on their forecastle, amidships and on the stern. The Fletcher linehandlers would then tie the messengers to their mooring lines and our linehandlers would  pull the mooring lines back to Yosemite.  When the Fletcher moved into her mooring position (our rubber fenders were out over the side to buffer the ships from actual contact), the mooring lines would be secure.

Passing the messenger normally was done by two methods. One was heaving the lines by hand to the other ship. The other was using a shot line. A shot line was the messenger tied to a small

This was in an open sea  and bringing a ship alongside a ship at anchor required lines being passed as quickly as possible. The mooring lines were passed quickly on the forecastle, but the seas had separated the two sterns out from each other and the fantail linehandlers had not been  able to get their lines across. The captain began to become more forceful in his orders through his sound-powered phone talker to the fantail. George Sitton, the first lieutenant, spoke to me with some urgency. He essentially said the linehandlers aft couldn’t get the lines across and we should use the crane to pass the lines. i agreed. We suggested this to the captain. He did not agree and became more forceful in his commands to pass the lines aft.  As Georg and I became more belligerent in our recommendation, the lines were passed without the crane as the captain had ordered.

The lines were tightened and Fletcher was secured alongside. We secured from sea detail but before going below, the captain asked me to come to his cabin. i followed him and sat in the chair in front of his desk.

“XO,” he began, “Don’t you ever question my orders again in front of our crew or officers again! I cannot tolerate that kind of show of disrespect. If you disagree with a decision or order of mine, we can discuss in private, but never do that again.”

I not only knew he was correct in admonishing me, I was embarrassed I had forgotten the parting advice from Captain Roger Newman as I left Okinawa: “You know when you become executive officer, your most important job is to support the captain,” he explained, “It doesn’t matter what you think about his decisions, if you don’t like his actions, or even if you don’t like him. Your job is to support him, to do anything to make him successful, to be his voice, his mirror reflection. That is your primary job.”

And I had forgotten. I had made a major blunder in my mind. It may have been done with good intention, but it was something an executive officer should never do.

I immediately responded to the captain, “Aye, aye, sir. i understand and apologize.” As I was leaving his cabin, I vowed I would never disagree with him in public again.

And I turned my attention to how to run a ship with a crew of 800 men and 100 women while anchored off a strange land with no precedent from which to learn, and, oh yes, with a Spruance Class destroyer moored alongside, the first to receive our maintenance and repair services. It seemed like the deployment was becoming longer, not shorter.

 

 

A Slight Delay: Apologies…and Stand By

It hasn’t been a particularly good weekend.

i dedicated the two days to finishing our trellis painting after Paul Shipley and Jacob helped me…er, the two of them putting up the last replacement beam with me helping, and my posting the next installment of my book in progress.

Well, strange weather bit me in the…ah, you know. Pacific storms forming and then riding the Japanese Current after hurdled across the Southwest corner in spades, taking our derogatory term “May Gray” to a new level. Therefore, no painting on the trellis.

Worse, my installments are now dependent on my actually completing the draft. That’s why i went to a one a week on Sundays rather than two a week. i’ve got most of the stuff lined up through the deployment, but i wanted to make sure it all was correct from the standpoint of when and needed the ship’s logs on microfiche to verify.

i ordered the logs about twenty years ago, maybe more, at least before microfiche became antiquated. i had also bought a reader when they were abundant and cheap. But in my wisdom (not) while cleaning out the garage attic, i tossed it forgetting i needed it for the ship’s logs.

When i began this project, i realized i needed to read the microfiche. i bought a reader on eBay for $120 but the seller forgot to tell me it had been converted to battery power. i hooked it up and smoked the mother board. The guy took it back and refunded me but it set me back about two months.

So i started looking at libraries around here to find a reader. There were only two within a reasonable distance i could determine actually had one. So i spent about ten or twelve days driving to San Diego State and the Chula Vista main library to record the logged events up to the Yosemite arriving at anchorage of Masirah, Oman.

Since i’ve reached that point in the installments, i drove to the Chula Vista library yesterday. When the reader light would not come on, i went to the desk to determine why. It broke. They didn’t know when it would be fixed.

i thought i would try the internet again. i found several on eBay and Amazon. The ones on eBay seemed reasonable, like in the $200 range. However, they required the buyer to pay shipping which came close to doubling the cost. Boo.

So this morning, i decided to travel to SDSU and use the one i had found initially. i walked through the rain to the library, went down three floors to the basement, walked down the hall to the microfiche room where a locked door had a notice reading “Closed Until Further Notice.”

i was distraught so i did what all good sailors do. i came home mid-morning and had a beer.

Before taking my nap, a requirement for old farts who have a beer mid-morning, i decided to take one quick stab at Craig’s List. Bingo. Rick had put one up for sale two weeks ago. Twenty bucks. i took Maureen and Sarah to South Park, bought my monster, and took them to The Rose Wine Bar for lunch, a double good thing.

So the bottom line is there is not a real installment on the book today. i will get one out in the next day or two. The good news i am no longer inhibited by the lack of microfiche readers. After all, i have this monster:

Stand by. Installments on their way.

Oops to Chapter 8

Two days ago, my fat fingers hit the wrong button and a very rough draft of the beginning of Chapter 8 was posted rather then being filed in the “draft” folder.

i have deleted the post and am working on Chapter 8. The next installment will be posted before Friday.

i once again have proven i am technically challenged and sometimes…oh, okay, most of the time, a little goofy from aging.

i apologize for any confusion.

Chapter 8: En Route Masirah, Oman

Chapter 8: En Route Masirah, Oman
     Underway.
     There is nothing, nothing in the world like being  underway at sea, especially on a Navy ship. Aboard the Anchorage, the Okinawa,  and the Yosemite “underway” was particularly enjoyable to me. They were either doing the job they had been built to do, e.g. Anchorage’s job was to load and unload equipment and troops by landing craft, boats, or helicopters; Okinawa’s job was to fly helicopters; and Yosemite’s job was to provide repair and maintenance services.
     The umbilical cords had been severed. Underway, the ship had become its own entity. True, orders from above dictated where the ship was to go and what it was to do when, but it was the ship and her commanding officer that determined how she would accomplish her mission and how well she would fare.
     i loved my time aboard five destroyers USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), USS Hawkins (DD 873), USS Waldron (DD 699), USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7), and  USS Hollister (DD 788). They were true “greyhounds of the sea,” and could do so many things uniquely. They were either practicing in exercises or providing a forward presence for the most part. One could feel the sea when on a “tin can.” The landing ship dock, the helicopter carrier, and the tender were working ships. On cans, i felt like i was cavorting. On those other three, i felt more like i was serving my Navy and my country, working.
     And Yosemite was underway again. She felt good underway. Although I did not know how long we would be near Masirah, Oman, from experience I knew us being at work would make the time go faster. It was a good time for this Exec. He escaped from his desk with piles of paperwork, his inspections, and the lines of officers and enlisted outside his office to the bridge and watch junior officers at the task he had enjoyed throughout his career, usually on the maneuvering ship.
     Shortly after we cleared the toes of Diego Garcia and headed north we would be making US Navy history again. As discussed between the two commanding officers when McCormick was alongside in Diego Garcia, we transferred two of our women officers, Sharon Carrasco and Emily Baker, by small boat. The seas were calm and the boat transfer went off smoothly.
     They were undoubtedly the first women officers on a  deployed combatant in the US Navy. The plan, as i remember (but cannot find a source to verify) was for the two officers to remain on the McCormick until  the day before we reached Masirah, a period of five days. However, my recollection is we sent a radio message noting the transfer to our chain of command. Then we received a responding message with the order to transfer them back immediately because there were to be no Navy females, officer on enlisted, on combatants. It should be noted the commanding officer does not recall any such adverse orders and remembers Sharon and Emily’s time on McCormick was the scheduled three days and two nights, which was their actual  time aboard the guided missile destroyer. My recall, which can be spotty, may have been impacted by my sense then and now most senior officers in the Navy did not want the program to succeed.
     Regardless, the Yosemite’s time with The Lynde McCormick was good for our officers and crew. We had the opportunity to let our junior officers get a feel of Navy ships maneuvering. The McCormick began to make approaches alongside, giving their conning officers and ours training in what was a staple of ship handling in my time: underway replenishment.
     Yosemite, serving as the replenishment ship, maintained course and speed, normally twelve knots into the seas while the McCormick made approaches to approximately 120 feet off of our starboard beam. The McCormick’s conning officer would attempt to maintain station while our conning officers, under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Sitton and Captain Boyle, would ensure we maintained steady course and speed.
     There is no doubt in my mind our crew was excited and impressed and the junior officers learned a great deal about shiphandling.
     The two Yosemite  officers learned even more. After departing our company that day, they went off to do exercises at speeds the Yosemite could not approach. On the morning of the next day, McCormick conducted “man overboard” drills.
    a man overboard drill was one of the first exercises I experienced as an ensign aboard the USS Hawkins on her way back from a Mediterranean deployment in 1968. Admittedly, it took me a while to figure it out. The drill consists of throwing “Oscar,” a kapok lifejacket assembled to look like a person over the side.  Someone then yells, “Man Overboard, Starboard (or Port) side!” The word is passed to the bridge where the conning officer immediately begins to maneuver to clear the propellers from “Oscar” passing down the side, then reversing course to find “Oscar” and retrieve him with life buoys or since it is a life jacket dummy with a grappling hook (on bigger ships, small boats are used for the actual retrieval of “Oscar”). When Yosemite performed the drills, which was nearly always right after getting underway, Captain Boyle wanted the junior officers to learn difficult maneuvers and required them to get the ship close enough to retrieve the dummy with grappling hooks.
     Once “Oscar” is near, the conning officer maneuvers the ship as close as possible. If done correctly, the ship stops with “Oscar” right next to it. This is no easy feat. Knowledge of the ship’s turning radius, the engines’ action to take effect at different speed orders, the rudders’ responsiveness to turning, and the sea and wind conditions all must be factored in determining how to get close to “Oscar.”
     Ensign Emily Baker, when I asked (she is now married and her name is Emily Black), provided the following narrative of her experience during the drills on the McCormick:
…the Lynde McCormick‘s CO decided to hold man overboard drills. All the junior officers were assembled on the bridge wing and the fun began. It was a windy afternoon, which played havoc with the maneuvering. All the attempts resulted in some combination of being downwind of the dummy, surging past it, being dead in the water too soon, etc. Much backing & filling was required to retrieve Oscar each time for the next JO. The CO put me near the end of the line-up, which gave me ample time to study the wind and get a feel for how much the ship continued to swing after a turn and its momentum after stopping the engines. Finally it was my turn and I took the con. As we got back up to speed, I noticed that topside became quite crowded with sailors, compared to earlier in the exercise. Apparently, word had flown around the ship that one of the female officers was about to try her hand, and everyone wanted in on the show. I felt really confident and loved conning such a responsive ship. (Sorry, Yosemite, no disrespect intended!) After Oscar was tossed into the drink, I brought the ship around perfectly. We were at right angles to the wind, motionless with Oscar on the leeward side exactly below the bosun mate on the fo’csle. All he had to do was drop his grappling hook straight down to snag the dummy. The CO watched all this with a completely neutral face, then when Oscar was safely back on board he turned to his JO’s, raised an eyebrow, and said “Well, boys, you’ve just been shown up!”
     I felt on top of the world, and obviously I’m still feeling the glow decades later!
     This story continues to live on in family lore. I had my children at the tail end of my Navy career, and as a result they have no memories of my being on active duty. However, as they were growing up, my husband and I told them many stories of our military service. (My husband, John, was also a Navy SWO, although he didn’t stay in for an entire career.)  When my younger daughter started high school, her English teacher assigned the class to write a profile of someone they considered a hero. My daughter decided to write about me. She called her essay “My Navy Mother” and focused on how unusual it was in the early 80’s for women to serve on ships. She also included this story of the man overboard drill.
     I recall Emily recounting this story to some degree when she returned with Sharon on the small boat transfer. i thought to myself that being a conning officer on a ship does not require a man. I remember not only feeling like we were proving women on ships would work but more so feeling proud of Emily and Sharon and the Yosemite. 
     While the officers were gone on Thursday, October 27th, we lost our gyro. Long before GPS positioning, ships relied on the gyro compasses for navigating the ship. Celestial navigation was the definitive backup for the gyro system. Dead reckoning, using the ships course and speed and any available knowledge of current was a much rougher estimate of position on the ocean but that type of navigation also relied on the ship’s course, i..e. the gyro compass readouts. In other words, the gyro compass was critical for us to get where we wanted to go.
     The next day before we received the two female officers back aboard from the McCormick,  at 0509, the port shaft overheated. As I had learned earlier with the evaporator problem just before we left Mayport, it is a good thing to have your own repair department on board. The gyro and shaft problems might have been corrected by a combatant, but Yosemite could address such problems quickly and did in both of these situations.
     It was a good transit, but at “1708 OCT 30,” a Monday, the USS Yosemite anchored just over three miles off Masirah, Oman as had been agreed with the Omani government and our superiors in the chain of command.
     The next chapter in her deployment was about to begin.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part three

i am now at the point where the installments will be written as we go. The previous installments were edited and amplified version of my rough drafts. So there are likely going to be more incorrect passages. As i have noted, i am not a great editor, especially of my own writing.

As i wrote this installment, this is a bit bigger task than i thought it would be. i will attempt to continue to post installments on Thursdays and Sundays, but the installments may become weekly. i still intend to play a bit of golf.

Thank you for your patience.

With the news of our schedule change, our stay in Diego Garcia took on a different tone with the focus shifting to getting underway for an extended at-sea period.

The ship’s in-port business continued as usual. Liberty ran as usual. We ran “I-Division” indoctrination for new crew members reporting aboard. The ship’s basketball team played games against different base organizations’ squads including the “All Island” team at the base gym. The ship’s softball team played several games including one against the “Near Term Predeployment Force.” Small arms qualifications were being conducted. Preparations and study for advancement exams were underway. And the civilian PACE instructors were conducting a number of courses for crew and officers.

Chaplain Poe held church services: Roman Catholic Mass on Saturday and two on Sunday, Protestant Services on Sunday and Protestant Bible Study on Wednesday, and “Free Worship on Sunday evenings, two Church of Christ lay services on Sunday, and Latter Day Saints lay services on Sunday. He was a busy man.

Military Justice also had to be served. This was not a crew of angels. Sailors were sailors and always will be. The results of a Captain’s Mast on Friday, 21 October, were listed in the next day’s POD and make this point for me:

  1. Captain’s Mast: The following are the results of Captain’s Mast helod on 21 OCT 83:
Rate Viol. UCMJ NJP Awarded
FN Art  92: Derelict in duty 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 30 days extra duty, RIR {reduction in rank} to E2
SN Art. 86: UA {Unauthorized Absence} from unit (2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
Art. 134: Breaking restriction
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 89: Disrespect to a commissioned officer
Art. 128: Assault
(3 specifications)
Art. 134: Communicating a threat
(3 specifications)
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 86: UA from unit
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
45 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 45 days extra duty, Forf {forfeiture of ½ month’s pay ($286.00) per month for 2 months, RIR to E1
SA Art. 92: Failure to obey a lawful general regulation 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, RIR to E1, Forf of $100 pay per month for 1 month
SR Art. 86: UA from unit
(2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement 
Awarded Summary Court Martial

Diego Garcia provided its own challenges. The following POD note demonstrates beach liberty could be dangerous:

Safety Note – Cone Shells

Venomous Cone shells can be found in the Diego Garcia area. They have a highly potent venom apparatus and their stings have caused paralysis, coma, and death. Avoid these shells. 

There was another more menacing threat in the waters around Diego Garcia. A 35-foot hammerhead shark had been occupying the lagoon for years. He was considered a pet and nicknamed “Hector” by the folks assigned to the island. Needless to say, swimming in the lagoon was not wise recreation.

It was easy to forget Diego Garcia was not a paradise. It was a beautiful tropical atoll, if humid, far away from where we came. I personally experienced such an awakening on my first stop there for about four days in 1981 while stationed on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) as the current operations officer of the Amphibious Squadron Five staff. I had escaped from other officers and had stopped my vehicle on the side of the road past the Naval Air Facility. At that point, the atoll was less than a half mile across. I walked over a dune to the beach on the ocean side.

I first stumbled upon the carcass of a long dead fish about six feet long. I surmised it was a tuna of some sort but it had disintegrated into being undistinguishable even though there was still some skin attached to the bone. The thought of wading in the ocean quickly vanished with my discovery.

I decided to just walk the beach. I was at peace, almost meditating as I walked slowly along what I thought was a pebbly surface. Then I felt as if I was having a stroke or something. The long stretch of beach began to seem like it was pulsating, undulating, moving. I became dizzy. I wondered if it was a slow earthquake or if the volcano from which the atoll was formed was awakening. I wasn’t afraid yet, but I was concerned.

I kept observing. I looked down at my feet and realized the source of the strange movement. The entire beach was covered by tiny hermit crabs. They were all moving, producing the undulating movements for as far as I could see. I watched fascinated, trying to get my bearings before I finally left. I never went to the ocean side beaches again.

The ship also conducted the PFT (Physical Fitness Tests) over a period of three days. The Navy’s PFT program was created in 1976 over concern many of our sailors were not physically capable of being able to perform in combat or other dangerous situations on ships. This PFT effort was a follow-on to the “JFK” physical tests introduced in the 1960’s by the sitting president, John Kennedy. Ships made a gesture of complying to those tests but there was no concrete corrective action required in the program, and it was mostly ignored and gradually disappeared.

I was all for the new standards of physical fitness. I remembered a few enlisted shipmates from previous ships who were too obese to get through hatches. The new requirements not only required passing the minimum standards of pull-ups or push-ups, sit-ups, and a 1½ mile run, they established a “body fat” minimum.” At the time, failure to meet the body fat standards or to pass the PFT noted the service member could be administratively discharged – later, there was more teeth put into the program with on-board remedial programs for failures, and if that was not productive, the service member could be sent to a Navy program for failure at body fat reduction much like the earlier established drug and alcohol rehab programs. The program was quickly labeled the “fat farm” by sailors (In my final Navy tour, I had a most rewarding experience when I required a senior chief to go to the “fat farm”). If all of these failed to produced results, the service member could be administratively discharged.

Emily Baker (now Black), our DCA recalled the Yosemite included push-ups in our PFT, not pull-ups. Linda Schlesinger, one of our stars in the supply department remembers the command master chief, BMCM Weaver crossing the finish line of the run with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

It was late October. We had been away from our families for a month and a half. For many of the crew who had not deployed before, it felt like we had been gone for an eternity. Christmas was still two months away. But we were reminded we were not going to be like Elvis and be home for Christmas. We had set up a studio for videotaping Christmas messages back home. Those crew and officers who wished to send a message back home could be taped and the videos would arrive back home for the holidays. The tapings brought the realization of not being home for Christmas into clarity.

Although I did not make a video tape for Maureen or Blythe in Texas, I was lonely also. I had made three deployments from 1979 through 1981, but I had been a bachelor then and viewed them as long, hard work interspersed with lots of fun. Now I was married, had been with my wife for a whopping two weeks before the ship left Mayport, and I was lonely as I expressed in a (amended) letter her I wrote 20 October:

Lady,

i have decided, quite on my own, there is no way possible, no way, you can be the woman i think you are.

i mean, i mean, really mean i look at your pictures. By the hundreds, i look at your pictures and know, no matter how gawdawful (Southern term)good looking i think you are, how much more i think you are good looking in the first person.

There ain’t no possible way a woman could be as wonderful as i know you are. So what must i do?

Spend as much time for the rest of my life trying to be with you, at least enough to figure out how you can be this wonderful and how (god bless office panels) i could have found you.

Love, scooby dooby doesn’t hold a candle to our love, scooby dooby.

*     *      *

The possibility of sexual liaisons among crew members continued to concern the command, i.e. the captain, me, and senior officers and enlisted. Although we knew men and women forming romantic relationships would never be stopped, we felt we needed to keep them at a minimum. I was not sure such liaisons would have a disastrous effect on the crew and the command, but I knew such going-on’s could lead to some very difficult problems and possibly create friction in the crew. One of the main functions of my job as XO was to promote good morale. I also was the figurehead for good order and discipline. Both could be threatened if amorous relationships went south. Another important aspect was our charge, specifically the captain’s and therefore mine as well was to make the Women at Sea program successful. Pregnancies while deployed, any negative impact on the ship created by relationships between men and women crewmembers (as well as in the wardroom), fraternization between male and female sailors of different ranks, especially officers and crew would have disastrous effect and possibly destroy the program. I should add such problems would leave an incredible bad mark on the captain’s and my Navy careers.

We didn’t want to throw threats at the crew or continually remind them of keeping their distance. After all, that would be going against the mantra of not having women or men on the ship because they were all sailors first. Still, I felt reminders of acting like sailors would help. The ship held “Military Rights and Responsibility,” “Culture Expression,” and “Women at Sea workshops on a regular basis. I also would frequently add POD notes reminding all hands the weather decks were off limits after taps even during in port periods.

*     *     *

Yosemite was now engaged knee deep in preparing to go to sea. Departments were ensuring they would have the needed supplies for the voyage north and our stay off Masirah (with no definite end date set yet). It was a busy time, but considering all, it was pretty much that way the entire deployment.

On Monday, 24 October, the Lynde McCormick moors alongside to refuel in the morning. That afternoon, Yosemite returns to the POL piers to refuel and then return to her anchorage.

0800, Tuesday, 25 October 1983, USS Yosemite gets underway for the North Arabian Sea and the island of Masirah, Oman. A new chapter of Navy history is begun.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part two

This installment follows the Yosemite’s change of schedule, eliminating Perth, Australia as a liberty port and departing for anchorage off of Masirah, Oman with the objective of providing more repair and maintenance services for Battle Group ALFA.

The change made perfect sense. I suspected wanting to be at sea rather than in a port might have played a small part in the captain’s idea. I was elated. We would be at sea. There would be many less problems without liberty. The CO and XO would have much more control over ship’s company, and the change would, in fact, allow us to do our job better and more frequently.

On the other hand, this would also affect our schedule, most significantly our liberty port visit to Perth, Australia. Perth was one of my all-time favorite ports of call. I had spent over two weeks there where i joined the wardroom of USS Okinawa (LPH 3). I was single, and Perth was a wonderful place to visit.

As with all things related to Navy ship’s schedules, that schedule did change. The departure from staying in Diego Garcia make a voyage east to Perth impractical.

With the loss of Perth as a liberty port, the captain and I lobbied through radio messages to the chain of command for the Yosemite to return to Mayport at the end of the deployment by going east, around the world. Of course, we both wanted to circumnavigate the globe. We also mistakenly believed it would be a public relations coup for the Navy: the first Navy ship to go around the world with women as part of ship’s complement. The chain of command, not too excited about getting positive public relations for the Women at Sea program, denied our request.

But we would be headed north shortly. We might have been the first tender to operate in a forward operational area since the Korean War. That made missing Perth and not going around the world a little easier on me.

As the plans were changing, we continued to operate as other tenders had in the Footprint of Freedom. Liberty launches began their round trip circuits at liberty call until the expiration of liberty. Our few rules about fraternization seemed to work. We would watch and other officers would report to us how our sailors would go to the Navy clubs and have a good time. As they left, a number of couples could be seen walking with their arms around each other or holding hands. As they walked toward the liberty launch pier, they would gradually move away from affectionate postures and by the time they arrived at the liberty launch, they would have quit holding each other, not holding hands and mixing with everyone else as if they were not a couple.

Having liberty meant having problems, even on an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. One medical report in the ship’s logs for October 16 is proof:

Received injury report on Schmidt, Joe. S., MM3 [again, personnel who had performance  problems are made anonymous by using the name “Schmidt”] Procured head injury from falling out of his rack. Urinalysis to follow.

But even with alcohol available in the clubs and apparently marijuana and possibly other drugs available through sailors not abiding by Navy regulations, we had a minimum of liberty problems. I attribute some of that to the fact male sailors behaved better when they were with women sailors.

*     *     *

But Yosemite had business to do. To do that, we would have to refuel. It had been a long way, since Palma since we took on fuel. Combatants, for all of my time aboard them, refueled at sea.

In my first Navy years, it was from a Navy oiler. Back then, the surface Navy had the destroyer, amphibious, and service forces. The service force consisted of ammunition ships, cargo ships, and oilers. Refueling at sea was a tricky evolution, bringing a ship alongside an oiler, passing hoses from about 120 feet apart, maintaining course and speed (usually 12 knots) with the combatant maneuvering to maintain station on the oiler. The refueling usually took an hour or so depending how much fuel the combatant needed to top off. The fueling was usually accompanied by a high line between the ships with the oiler delivering supplies and mail and swapping movies. It was a demanding operation for all hands from the engineers, to the personnel on station to latch up the refueling rigs, and the bridge where the OOD keeping station was a mark of good seamanship.

By the time Yosemite deployed, most of the service forces had transitioned out of the Navy and became Military Sealift Command ships manned by the merchant marines, not sailors. The amount of refueling at sea had greatly decreased with most refueling being accomplished in liberty ports. It really didn’t matter as Yosemite’s capability to refuel at sea had been removed a number of years before we deployed. In a way, I was relieved. Even though we had the best LDO Bosun I had ever met, a Commanding Officer who was an expert in such maneuvers, and I was a conning officer with tons of experience, we had enough on our plate without having to go through refueling at sea.

On Monday, 17 October, we weighed anchor, moved to the “POL” pier and commenced an all-day refueling, returning to anchorage in the late afternoon.

Our business, Yosemite’s mission, was to provide repair and maintenance services to forward deployed ships. The first was not a destroyer type, but a nuclear submarine. The USS William S. Bates (SSN-680) came alongside and tied up to us the next morning. The one-day alongside allowed us to perform some minimal maintenance and repair work. The Bates primary need we provided was provisions. We resupplied the sub with stores, especially food items. Linda Schlesinger, our ship’s store officer at the time remembers the sub was down to hot dogs and brussels sprouts.

The XO with his requirement to be sure everything was ship shape was a bit concerned.

It was our first maintenance period since deploying, a nuclear submarine getting supplies and maintenance services from a destroyer tender. I was well aware the high jinks submariners could initiate. Their wild liberty escapades were well-known sea stories (rumors) among surface sailors. Those submariners had spent long, long days submerged without any contact with females. Some of their antics on liberty, even commanding officers, were legendary. Again, Yosemite’s executive officer was concerned, but no incidents from the sub reacting to the women crew members occurred, at least as far as I knew.

Later that morning, the USNS Catawba (T-ATF-168), a Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet tug came alongside to port. She refueled and got underway the next morning.

After Catawba departed from refueling, I went ashore. I went on a run of about ten miles with the doc, Frank Kerrigan. We showered and changed at the gym and then went to the Officer’s Club for dinner. I sat down at the bar for an after dinner drink. Sitting next to me was the master of the Catawba.

Diego Garcia had some new buildings at the base. The transition to new barracks was completed, but the old wood buildings where base personnel originally had been housed were still standing. They reminded me of many of the WWII buildings used for training at OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, or perhaps more so like the barracks in Asia during WWII depicted in movies, wood siding on the outside with interior open space, all on stilts. The Officer’s Club was small and a spot for escape to me. The bar and dining area looked out toward the northeast where the “toes” of the “Footprint of Freedom” were visible. The “toes” were West Island, Anniversary Island, Middle Island, and East Island. The “O” Club had a great view, was comfortable, had passable food, and occasionally gave one the opportunity to have some contact with someone outside of the command, sometimes a needed escape for an all-consuming effort for an executive officer.

Catawba’s master provided me an escape. Unfortunately, I have no record of and do not remember his name. We talked over a couple of drinks. I remember most of the conversation well because I was thinking about my future.

The master related he had been a second class quartermaster on a destroyer with six years in the Navy. He got out, used his navigation experience in obtaining his third mate’s license, and quickly moved up to master of a fleet tug in his early thirties. The salary for a master of any sea-going merchant marine ship was almost three times what I was making as a commander and executive officer with 15 years of service. And the Catawba’s contract was working at sea for six months with the next six months off at home each year.

Being on a ship at sea had become a passion for me. If my quest for command at sea did not materialize, by now a likely result, I considered another option for continuing a life at sea. In my first executive officer tour with Military Sealift Transportation Service (MSTS) which had a name change to Military Sealift Command (MSC) in 1970 while I was XO, I experienced life as a member of the Merchant Marine. Transport Unit One rode the USNS Geiger and later, the USNS Upshur carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back to Pusan, Korea. The Navy transport unit officers consisted of a commander CO, the XO, two doctors, and a chaplain. The medical team consisted of a chief and six corpsmen. Two “storekeepers” were assigned to the unit. One second class yeoman, a boatswainmate chief and two seaman rounded out the unit.

I had actually considered finishing my obligated Navy service of three years, attaining a third mate’s license with the merchant marine and spending my life at sea. But my career goal was to be a sports writer, and an offer from a good friend to become such in Watertown, New York, was too good to turn down. After my three year obligation, I left active duty and became a sports writer and then sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times.

Talking to the master of the Catawba, that possibility of remaining at sea crossed my mind again. I had always wanted to be on ocean going minesweeper and a fleet tug was similar in size and more of a working ship. It could be, no, should be fun. But I dismissed the thoughts quickly. I was married now and wanted to spend as much time with Maureen as possible.

The next day, the USS Lynde McCormick (DDG 8) came alongside for repair and maintenance services. The planning conference and the ensuing dinner in our captain’s cabin with the McCormick’s commanding officer brought about another first on our transit north in the coming days.

As we concluded the McCormick’s maintenance period, radio messages from CINCPACFLT confirmed our schedule change. The Yosemite would head north in three days, arriving off the island of Masirah, Oman on November 1.

As mentioned earlier, the bad news was the scheduled liberty port visit to Perth, Australia was cancelled. The crew was not happy with the idea of not going to Perth but going to sea and working. Also as mentioned earlier, i was personally disappointed.

I had flown to Perth from Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines on a C-141 in September 1981 to report aboard USS Okinawa (LPH-3) to relieve Ken Manni and become the weapons officer.

The flight was one of the most miserable in my Navy career. Being the only officer on board other than the flight crew and dressed in my service dress blues, I sat on a cargo jump seat in the back of the aircraft and concerned about my appearance when reporting to Okinawa, I remained there during the flight while a number of the enlisted passengers climbed atop the large amount of cargo and slept sprawled out for most of the initial ten-hour flight. The pilot announced we would land at an Australian air force base in Queensland to refuel and a breakfast had been prepared for us at the base enlisted mess. This was welcomed news as our only in-flight meal was a box lunch we had been handed while boarding. It consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with a bag of chips, an apple, and a stale cookie. The flight crew handed out cokes and cups of water sporadically throughout the ten hours.

Unfortunately, no one had told the Australian galley of the plans. The breakfast did not occur and we re-boarded for the remain twelve hours.

But the miserable flight led to one of the best liberty I had during my time at sea. Shortly after I reported aboard, a group of officers hired two cabs to take us to Eagle Wools, a sheepskin plant outside of Perth. I was not interested in purchasing any sheepskins, but decided it would be good to mingle with my new shipmates.

Eagle Wools was consisted of a warehouse where a number of ladies were sewing sheepskins into various items, mostly hats and slippers – they later became the manufacturer of Ugg boots, but that came much later and the warehouse now boasts a modern showroom.

We were greeted by Phil White, the plant’s manager. He pointed the other officers to product sales material and turned them over to the ladies. When he asked me, what I was interested in buying, I responded I wasn’t interested, just along for the ride. He asked me if I would like a beer. Of course, I did. The two of us went over to a corner and a 1950’s era refrigerator. Phil opened it up. It was stuffed with cans and cans of Emu beer. We had both had about three when the officers finished their shopping.

I ran with Phil White and his wife for the rest of our liberty stay. I went to pubs that might as well have been in Britain. Phil took me out to the R&R inn in a park where Australians and Americans escaped from the rigors of battle in World War II and Vietnam. There after a hearty lunch, I had face-to-face time with kangaroos, koalas, and wombats. The couple also introduced me to several enchanting Aussie women. It ended the night before our ships sailed with Phil and I back at Eagle Wool, swapping tall tales. After not intending to buy any wool products at the outset, I ended up with four two-hide sheepskin rugs, a couple of wool hats, and to top it off, a nine-piece sheepskin I have used for a rug before my bachelor fireplace, a bed cover, and something to make me very, very warm when needed.

I was looking forward to escapades with Phil again, but it was not to be.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans

While entering into the lagoon through the toes of the “Footprint of Freedom” I recalled my other visit with pleasure. I had been there as the Weapons Officer of the USS Okinawa (LPH 3) in 1982. Sitting seven degrees south of the equator, the atoll measures just over eleven square miles. From the air, the land mass around the lagoon looks much like a footprint, which where its nickname originated among sailors.

The weather is best described as muggy. Although there is considerable wind, I never felt it as a problem. The oppressiveness of mid-70 lows and mid-80 highs throughout the year is mollified somewhat by the ocean breezes. Although the annual rainfall was just over eleven inches, the humidity and the dew points produce categories of “muggy,” “oppressive,” and “miserable,” nothing else all year long. In spite of the small amount of rain, the humidity produces jungle thick vegetation if not held in check. I found it livable, even bearable in the shade and thought if I ever were marooned on an island I would want it to be like Diego Garcia.

But it wasn’t deserted. The base had a gym, complete with racquetball and basketball courts, weight rooms with spas and saunas in the dressing rooms. There were enlisted, chief, and officer clubs, as well as a “seaman’s club” for the merchant marine. The Navy exchange was small but adequate. The exchange had pith helmets like the ones worn by the “Ramar of the Jungle” cast in the television series that ran for two years in the early 1950’s. In my first visit, I bought two pith helmets. I kept one and sent the other to my brother in Vermont. A number of the officers and crew of Yosemite purchased pith helmets as momentoes.

Diego Garcia is the largest and only inhabited island in the Chagos Atoll chain, which consists of approximately sixty islands. It has been a British Indian Ocean Territory. (BIOT) since 1965 when it was detached from being a part of the British colony of Mauritius. The local population, consisting largely of former slaves on the coconut plantation on the eastern side of the island, were forcefully deported to the Seychelles and Mauritius for the British to focus on the island being a forward military operating station for the Indian Ocean.

The British military maintained a presence with a unit of about thirty personnel as the United States Navy became the dominant presence on the island. A significant number of deployed USNS cargo ships were anchored there to provide immediate equipment and supplies to U.S. forces in any surprise conflict in the Mideast or other Indian Ocean areas, particularly in the Persian Gulf. The Navy also commissioned a “Naval Air Facility,” used primarily by the Air Force for long range bombing capability throughout the Indian Ocean.

Once Yosemite anchored in the middle of Diego Garcia’s lagoon, base personnel brought out a large barge to serve as our departure point from the accommodation ladder to the waiting liberty boats to take our crew and officers to the island.

I was a bit anxious again. It seemed I spent quite a bit of time being anxious. Liberty on Diego Garcia would be different than Rota or Majorca. To begin with, there were some Navy female personnel assigned to the Naval Station there, but very few. Our sailors would be going on liberty with just themselves, male and female. And there were no orphanages to attend to, no tours to occupy liberty time. The possibilities concerned me.

We were expecting to be there for almost three weeks, transit to Perth, Australia for liberty, then back to the atoll before a transit and short period anchored off Masirah, Oman.

One of the first events was the transfer of our operations officer. Kathy Rondeau, who in my mind, had proved her mettle. She had been competent and skillful, a good leader. The only assuaging aspect of her departure is Noreen Leahy had proven she would be just as reliable as Kathy.

A good moment in the captain’s and my relationship with Kathy and the other women officers was when, in the presence of the other women officers she asked the two of us, the old guard, about what she should do next to further her career in the Navy. Although aware of the success we had had thus far with women at sea, CAPT Boyle and I both were aware of the senior chain of command, all male, being resistant to allowing women to continue to be on ships. We advised her and the other women officers to continue to go to sea as much as would be allowed. Our reasoning was any operational tour would be looked upon as a plus throughout a female officer’s career. But we also advocated them getting a sub-specialty. Having a sub-specialty would allow them to continue on that path if the advancement for female officers at sea did not go further.

Kathy departed on her way back to a shore billet at her new duty station at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville.

After she left, she sent me a letter, which I received while we were anchored off Masirah. Here are excerpts from that letter:

Thank you for all you did for me. You can never know how much you have helped me grow as a Surface Warfare Officer. That night we spoke about OOD quals – you said a lot of good things and I listened to your good advice. I agree with you about not worrying about what other people think or how other people got their quals. Also, I am proud to be a Surface Warfare Officer, and XO, if it had not been for the cruise, you, and the Captain, I wouldn’t be so proud…

…I never said goodbye to you, XO, it was too hard for me to do…you were so good to me and taught me so much professionally and built up my self-confidence as a Surface Warfare Officer and a department head.

*     *     *

Maureen was never off of my mind. One of the principals at Parron-Hall Office Interiors, Bob Long, where she was an account executive was also an excellent photographer. For a wedding/going away present, Maureen gave me some beautiful photos of her. One large one framed, which I hung on the after bulkhead of my office so I could look at it anytime I glanced up from my desk. It was the photo, Dina Weaver, the ship’s ombudsmen noticed Maureen looked like Susan Lucci, the long term star of “All My Children.”

I looked at that photo a lot. After all of my work had been put to bed, I would write her a letter, perhaps adding every night. Sometimes I would write just for me. Here is a poem I wrote and sent to her between Yosemite clearing the Suez and Diego Garcia:

To Maureen, the Beginning of an Epic Poem

 Indian Ocean phosphorescence,
glowing wave in the night
awes me not,
i have seen this glow in other oceans,
while young sailors shout in delight
at their sighting the sparkling waves;
i, unamused, return to my stateroom
with better things to do
like dream visions that are real.

 there should have been a diaphanous mist,
ethereal, mystical,
flowing about her
when she walked toward me
the first time
(mind, do not play tricks on me:
i desire to remember the moment
exactly as it was,
clear, finite.
her dress a gossamer gown,
softly caressing the elegance of her body;
her hair curled and falling to her shoulders gracefully,
framing her delicate, fine yet soft features;
eyes, oh eyes that drew me in, took my breath,
suggested more than my mind could comprehend,
grasped my soul
and
told Scherazade’s thousand tales,
drawing me into a bottomless pit of emotion
before i knew emotion could have no end,
allowing me to float suspended in her beauty.

 i was afraid to speak,
afraid i might fall from suspension,
might break the image before me;
then we got down to business;
what in god’s name did i think, i think;
perhaps suspicious of her beauty,
certainly awed;
i made a joke.
did she notice i was nervous?

oh, little boy,
walk away
if you are merely making a furniture deal;
walk away happy with the thought
you will see her at least one more time.

 i am deep into the Indian Ocean night;
i have learned to gauge the depth of the night
by the strength of the coffee;
now, the coffee is knock your socks off strong,
burnt grounds black;
the work seems endless;
the sea is infinite;
yet i smile
when i dream of her.

*     *     *

Before we had arrived in Diego Garcia, I decided to let Maureen know our schedule.

I hedged on rules about confidential material in a quick note to Maureen. I felt guilty in that I would be screaming mad, or at least fake being screaming mad if a junior officer or sailor had divulged such information to a spouse, but I also knew from experience, ship’s schedules, although confidential information, were quickly available to just about everybody. I overcame my guilt when I thought our schedule was set. I sent it to Maureen with trepidation:

Boggs,

Around the world seems to be a lost hope. Here’s the schedule as we know it:
14-24 Oct: Diego Garcia
25 Oct– 2 Nov: Transit to Perth
3-7 Nov – Perth, Australia
8-16 Nov – Transit to Diego Garcia
17 Nov – 7 Dec: Diego Garcia
7-12 Dec – Transit to Masirah, Oman
13-25 Dec – Masirah, Oman (anchorage, no liberty)
26-31 Dec – Transit to Diego Garcia
1-10 Jan – Transit to Mombasa, Kenya
11-17 Jan – Mombassa, Kenya
18-23 Jan – En route to North Arabian Sea
29 Jan-9 Feb – Ops North Arabian Sea (i’m guessing we’ll be at anchorage in Karachi, Pakistan with some liberty)
10 Feb-21 Mar – En route Mayport (Best bet is one stop in the Western Mediterranean: we plan to ask for Malaga, Spain. If we could stop in the eastern Med, it would most likely be Athens or Korfu, Greece.

*     *     *

The first morning after arriving, we had our “turnover” with the USS Cape Cod (AD 43). It was very short. The tender we were relieving had not had one period of maintenance for a Navy ship. We were appalled. The thought of sitting at anchor in the lagoon with nothing to do was not a comforting thought. Captain Boyle thought of a way to make us more effective and was determined to make it happen. He forwarded his proposal to Admiral Butcher, our immediate operating superior and the Commander, Task Force 76, and Admiral Hogg, Commander 7th Fleet, the senior Navy officer for operations in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean

Captain Boyle recommended Yosemite, rather than remaining in Diego Garcia except for one December week off of Oman and the liberty trip to Perth Australia, sail immediately to anchorage off Masirah, Oman and provide maintenance and repair services to ships of Battle Group Alfa, the USS Ranger (CV 61) carrier group for the bulk of our time in the Indian Ocean.

The chain of command realized Captain Boyle’s idea had merit and ordered Yosemite to get underway and head to an anchorage off the island of Masirah, Oman much earlier than scheduled.

The problem the captain had identified was distance. Nearly all, if not all U.S. combatants were operating in the North Arabian Sea or in the Persian Gulf, a distance of over 2,000 miles from Diego Garcia. For a ship to receive maintenance and repair services, she had to transit that distance twice to get to and from Diego Garcia, over 4,000 miles. That’s over ten days. Adding the repair availability, normally two weeks back in the states, would make a ship unavailable to meet operational requirements for over three weeks.

Going to anchorage off the island and staying there until Christmas made good sense. Compared to Diego Garcia, Masirah is much closer to the primary operation areas of U.S. forces. A ship could reach Yosemite within a day of being on station, sometimes less. Since Yosemite would be at anchor, essentially at sea, with no liberty, time for services to be completed could be compressed into much shorter periods. Such a move would allow Yosemite to be much more effective in accomplishing her mission, i.e. providing support services to combatants in a forward deployed area.

Chapter 6: The Red Sea, The Indian Ocean, and Crossing the Line

Chapter 6: The Red Sea, The Indian Ocean, and Crossing the Line

The ten days transiting the length of the Red Sea was rather uneventful although I was concerned about a relatively unarmed U.S. Navy ship in a less than friendly area. The Gulf of Aden transit was no less traumatic although it felt more like being at sea than anything in the Canal or the Red Sea.

Looming ahead was a significant concern of mine. I decided not to discuss it with anyone, even the captain. It was going to be what it was going to be, and my discussing it would not change it. On Wednesday, October 12, Yosemite would cross the equator. The ship would experience “Crossing the Line.” “Crossing the Line” was a rough initiation in my old Navy. I was concerned it might get out of hand, and that could become a huge problem for a ship with 106 enlisted women, two female chiefs, and six female officers.

In general, the Navy had been cracking down on hazing, which for centuries was a major part of the initiation of “pollywogs” (those who had not crossed the equator) by “shellbacks” (those who had crossed the line and gone through the initiation). I knew. I was a shellback.

In 1979, I flew to Hobart, Tasmania to join the staff of Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five as Current Operations Officer aboard USS Tripoli (LPH 10), a helicopter carrier. Our staff numbered about thirty, the ship’s complement was just short of 700, and the number of embarked USMC personnel on the landing force commander’s staff and the marine air unit also numbered just less than 700. The ship had crossed the equator en route to Tasmania. The number of pollywogs was significantly more than the number of shellbacks. It was a raucous two days.

The number of personnel, i.e. pollywogs, reporting in Tasmania included about 100 enlisted marines and one lieutenant commander, aka me.

Tripoli departed Hobart and went to Sydney, Australia for a week. Following Sydney, we made a port visit to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. After New Guinea, we headed for Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines, and crossing the equator en route.

The officer I was relieving, Lieutenant Commander Conrad Bormann, knew “Crossing the Line” could be very rough for me. Out of 100 pollywogs, I was the only Navy type and the only officer. The 900 or so brand new shellbacks were excited about being on the giving part of the initiation, especially to initiate the one Navy lieutenant commander. Conrad gave me the low down on what was going to happen, how I should pick out my shabbiest working khaki to wear backwards and inside out for the ceremony, and how to act. He went an extra mile by promising to escort me through the initiation line to prevent some overzealous new shellback from hurting me.

After getting up an early hour, I dug out my oldest and most stained khakis (having been a chief engineer, I manage to soil a number of working khakis), turned them inside out, and pulled them on. I reported to the mess decks and was met by Conrad. I pretty much faked eating the “green” eggs and other supposedly gross breakfast fare. I figured I didn’t need anything on my stomach for what was going to happen next.

Conrad escorted me to the gauntlet of eager new shellbacks excited about getting to lay on to a lieutenant commander with their shillelagh’s (lengths of fire hose cut to be flexible paddles). The shillelagh-wielding gang did not disappoint. I was amply whacked as I crawled along the flight deck, confident and assured Conrad was watching to make sure it would not get worse.

On my knees, I was ushered to the boatswain, one of the…how shall I say this, ahh… most stomach-ample sailors on the ship. It was time to kiss the “Boatswain’s Belly.” He grabbed by ears and forced by head into the folds of his grossly greased belly. This could have been really bad, but Conrad had it stopped before I completely lost my breath.

Still, it had not been unbearable, and I was confident as I approached the last two steps. It would soon be over. Conrad’s escort was a blessing. Then, as I approached the chute filled with garbage we had to crawl through, Conrad, after a messenger had run down to him from the flag bridge nudged me and said, “We just received a top secret radio op-immediate radio message. I have to go read it, brief the commodore and chief staff officer, but I’ll get back as soon as I can.

As I faced the jury rigged tube stuffed with the previous night and morning messes garbage, my confidence dimmed a bit. But it was only about fifty feet, and one more event. I made it through and was spitting and trying to clear gunk out of my eyes and ears. I saw the final event was being hoisted in a cargo net along with three or four other pollywogs and being blasted by a firehose stream. Considering all of the slime I had all over me and filling most of my pores, that didn’t sound too bad.

But as I headed, again on my hands and knees, to the cargo net’s final indignity, they stopped me. I was informed as an officer, especially a lieutenant commander, the only officer on the ship who was a pollywog, I would have to kiss the boatswain’s belly and traverse the chute again.

Being a good sport, I went through the ordeal again. This time with that unholy garbage mess now filling the pores of my pores, I once again headed for the cargo net. Once again, I was stopped. Once again, I went through the line. I was beginning to wonder, but Conrad finally came back, saw what was going on, and took me to my cleansing.

Back in my stateroom, I stripped out of my inside out khakis, violated the Navy shower rule with a non-stop fifteen minute drenching, trying to wash as much as I could off of me. Finished and dressed, I gingerly held my initiation uniform away from me, walked out to the weather decks and tossed the garments into the sea.

So I was very aware of what could happen at the Crossing the Line initiation.

We used every way of communicating to keep things under control, including a POD note:

  1. CROSSING THE EQUATOR: (THE INITIATION)

GENERAL SAFETY GUIDELINES: “CROSSING THE EQUATOR” IS A TIME HONORED TRADITION IN WHICH AN INITIATION CEREMONY IS PERFORMED TO INTRODUCE THE SLIMY, GREASY POLLYWOGS TO TRUSTY SHELLBACKISM. IT CAN AND SHOULD BE FUN FOR ALL HANDS. IT CAN ALSO BE UNNECESSARILY INJURIOUS AND HUMILIATING IF COMMON SENSE IS NOT APPLIED TO TONE DOWN THE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL ACTS WHICH ARE INVOLVED. SHELLBACKS MUST GUARD AGAINST BEING OVERZEALOUS WHEN APPLYING THOSE WELL-DESERVED WALLOPS TO THE HIND SIDES OF THE SLIMY POLLYWOGS. THE SAFETY REGULATIONS SHALL BE STRICTLY ENFORCED AND ANY PERSONNEL VIOLATING THOSE REGULATIONS WILL BE REQUIRED TO FORFEIT ANY PARTICIPATION IN THE CEREMONY. THE WOGS WATCH COMMITTEE HAS THE OVERALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SAFETY OF BOTH POLLYWOGS AND THE SHELLBACKS ON THE FORECASTLE. ALL SENIOR PERSONNEL ON COMMITTEES HAVE OVERALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SAFETY OF BOTH THE POLLYWOGS AND SHELLBACKS IN THEIR ASSIGNED AREAS. THE FOLLOWING GENERAL SAFETY GUIDELINES SHALL APPLY:

    1. FIRE HOSES SHALL NOT BE USED INSIDE THE SKIN OF THE SHIP.
    2. FIRE HOSES SHALL NOT BE SPRAYED DIRECTLY TOWARD POLLYWOGS.
    3. NO FOREIGN MATTER OF ANY KIND WILL BE RUBBED INTO EYES, EARS, OR NOSE.
    4. WALLOPS, TO THE HIND SIDES, SHALL BE MADE WITH CARE TO AN AREA BELOW THE WAIST AND ABOVE THE CROTCH AND SHALL ONLY BE ADMINISTERED IN THE DESIGNATED “SHILLELAGH LINE.”
    5. CARE MUST BE TAKEN TO AVOID DIRECTING WATER TOWARD ELECTRICAL BOXES AND OUTLETS.
    6. ACTIVITIES INCIDENT TO “CROSSING THE LINE” WILL BE CONDUCTED ON WEATHER DECKS ONLY. ALL AREAS INSIDE THE SKIN OF THE SHIP ARE OFF LIMITS TO INITIATION EVENTS.
    7. POLLYWOGS WILL WALK UP AND DOWN LADDERS.
    8. SHOWER SHOES OR RUBBER PADS WILL BE TAPED TO THE KNEES.

I considered adding some comments to the above note concerning sexual abuse of any kind being cause for NJP. I remembered our watchwords of not having men and women but sailors aboard and decided against such a warning.

Captain Boyle, Command Master Chief Weaver, who would be King Neptune in the ceremonies, and I had numerous meetings on security and how to handle any misconduct. The word got out. It was not a patty cake initiation. It was pretty much the way I remembered them. It just happened to be some women pollywogs who became shellbacks that day.

The ceremony, I thought, was really good for morale. Everyone had gone through the ordeal or meted out the initiation requirements together. Everyone was proud of getting through the two days, and everyone on board was a certified shellback.

Now it was time to get ready for Diego Garcia.

As we approached Diego Garcia, the captain and I wanted to be sure our sailors understood our rules. After discussing liberty on Diego Garcia, I published the following note in 4 October Plan of the Day and it ran daily in the POD until we reached the lagoon:

  1. Fraternization: The following USS Yosemite regulation is provided for the information of all hands: Fraternization between crew members of the opposite sex is prohibited on board or on the pier controlled by Yosemite. There will be no displays of affection, physical contact, or other type of conduct except that which is normally expected in a military environment. Off ship, public display of affection between Navy members in uniform is prohibited.

The morning of Thursday, 13 October, we went from pollywogs and shellbacks to sailors a day out of port. Not counting the Suez Canal transit and the refueling stop in Augusta, Sicily, we had been out of port since leaving Palma de Majorca 27 September, the longest continuous time at sea, 16 days, for the vast majority of Yosemite’s crew.

We began our preparations for entering port in earnest. A fresh water wash down of the entire weather decks was conducted that morning. A navigation brief for entering port was held in the wardroom in the afternoon. We took a break when the captain cut the cake on the mess decks to celebrate the Navy’s 208th birthday and then held a brief on boat operations, especially liberty boat runs, presented on the ship’s closed circuit television in the evening.

1425, Friday, 14 October 1983: USS Yosemite (AD 19) anchored in the middle of the lagoon of Diego Garcia. Known to sailors as the “Footprint of Freedom,” Diego Garcia had a significant U.S. Navy presence in the British Territory, the largest island in the Chagos Atoll Island chain

There is not much there. However, I had said during my previous stop there in 1982 on USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3), it was my vision of the island I would like to be on if marooned. It was still that enchanting.